My Big Fat Greek Holiday (3)

Disillusioned by our experience in Kos, our next destination was Crete, the island where Ianni was born and which he had extolled frequently. “Ah, Kriti, it is the most beautiful island in the world,” he had assured us. We decided to find out if that was true.

We booked a fortnight in a shared villa in Chania, a short distance from the harbour. The villa was named after El Greco, who had, reputedly, lived there back in the mists of time.

A little back story is in order here. At the time TOH was a senior branch manager for a relatively newly-formed ‘financial services’ company. The supreme head was a friend of 20 years standing, a warm, funny man. TOH’s contract with the company stipulated that he was entitled to six weeks holiday each year. The job of a branch manager was a demanding one of 10-hour days, 6 days a week, under pressure to deliver results. Weekends were frequently taken up with obligatory meetings and motivational activities. The company owned its managers lock, stock and smoking barrels, and we hadn’t had a holiday in two years.

When TOH announced that we had booked two weeks away, all hell was let loose. I won’t bore you with lengthy details of the negotiations that ensued, but it came down to the fact that if we did go away for two weeks, TOH would find his contract terminated. So off we went, at the beginning of September when the weather in Crete would be at its best.

Chania is a spectacularly pretty town, and the El Greco villa was quaint and comfortable.

Our fellow guests were a lively couple of our age, who had the room below us. On the same floor as us were another couple. There was a wife, but we only saw her once as she popped her head out of the door as we were going past, and quickly retreated like a high-speed tortoise retracting into its carapace.

In glorious sunshine we explored the town, the harbour, the restaurants, visited the beach where Zorba was filmed, and walked the gorgeous Samaria gorge. Kriti was indeed very beautiful, just as Ianni had said.

Chania harbour - Wikimedia

Chania harbour – Wikimedia

Samaria Gorge - Wikimedia

Samaria Gorge – Wikimedia

The hot water in our villa was entirely produced by solar power, which was fine when the solar was working. However, on the 5th day we awoke in the night to lashing rain and a soaking bed. Water was gushing through the ceiling. The room was small, and no matter where we put the bed, the water hit it. We laid some plastic bags beneath the cascade, but the noise of the water sploshing onto them made sleep impossible. It was suddenly very cold.

Next morning, bleary-eyed, we shared breakfast with the lively couple, Rich and Helen. The street outside was an ankle-deep fast flowing stream. There was no hot water, and would not be for the remaining nine days. During a brief break in the downpour, the four of us paddled down to the sea front. The sea had climbed out of its bed and taken up residence on the harbour and in the restaurants, piling heaps of seaweed against the buildings. The restaurants were under water and closed, their awnings ripped, plastic chairs and tables strewn among the seaweed. We made our way uphill, to a museum, where we examined shards of pottery with Greek labels. The local cinema was showing Rambo; in Greek. It was bitterly cold.

We bought a carpet to put over our bed to keep warm. And a large plastic sheet to keep the rain off, and a load of towels to heap onto the plastic to deaden the sound.

There really wasn’t much to do in Chania, in the relentless pouring rain, but we were all keen readers with a good supply of books, so we settled down in the lounge with mugs of coffee and a plate of biscuits, wrapped in our warmest clothes, and sat reading in companionable silence.

“Did you know,” said a voice from the doorway “that there are at least 10,000 species of spiders in Australia?”

Lots of these in Australia! http://australianmuseum.net.au/

It was our neighbour from the first floor, husband of the reclusive wife. A portly man, with a long beard.

Common politeness meant that we all laid down our books and introduced ourselves. We learned that our new friend was a tax inspector *Mutual Flinch*, and a leading member of, and evangelist for The Church of Sweet Running Waters. He talked at great length of the church, which didn’t have an organ but everybody in the congregation shook tambourines and clashed cymbals, both large and finger-sized, or tinkled little bells. He invited us to join him for prayers, which we all politely declined. Moving on from the church, he gave a talk on how the tax system had changed over the years, oblivious to our stony silence.

Rich broke the spell by jumping up and saying it was time for lunch. We followed suit, and heedless of the swirling stream around our ankles and wet stair rods belting down on us, we almost ran uphill in search of somewhere to eat. Installed in the furthest, darkest corner of one of the few tavernas that was open, as we were ordering Rich groaned, “Oh, for goodness sake.” Peering through the rain-lashed window was the tax inspector. He raised his hand and came over to our table, pulling up a chair. “I thought I’d lost you,” he said. “Been looking everywhere. But seek and ye shall find: Matthew 7:7.”

This formed the pattern for the rest of our stay. Cold, wet, leaking roof, stalked by a religious maniac. We never saw the wife, but in our efforts to avoid him Rich would tap gently on the ceiling of their room, signalling that it was time for us to tiptoe downstairs and go to find somewhere to eat in peace. Sometimes it worked, but mostly the tax inspector/evangelist would track us down, never doubting his presence was welcome.

One morning, lying in the small bed, listening to the irritating plopping of the rain onto the towels, TOH gave a little sigh and said: “I gave up a perfectly good job for this.” :D

The drachma was devalued. Suddenly our spending power was vastly increased. But there was nothing to spend it on. You can only eat so much food.

Wiki Commons

We decided to try to escape from Kriti, and went to a local travel agency to book a flight home. There was nothing available. We were too late. The more desperate holiday-makers had already left.

Despite the tax inspector/evangelist, the cold and the rain, we enjoyed our holiday. Good company, good books and a sense of humour passed the time pleasantly until our departure. The Cretan people we met during our forays out into the tempest were charming, kind and sympathetic, embarrassed by the failure of their climate.

When we arrived in Heraklion for our homebound flight, it was snowing. The flight was delayed for several hours. A woman in front of me in the queue turned around and glared. In a loud voice she said: “Bloody hell, that woman behind me stinks of garlic. Disgusting.” People turned and stared. I was past caring.

You can never have too much garlic! Wiki Commons

You can never have too much garlic!
Wiki Commons

At home, there was an envelope on the doormat. TOH no longer had a job. :D

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Can’t find where to attribute this image – sorry!

Would we ever go back to Crete again? A million times yes. Maybe not in September. And maybe somewhere with electric water heating.

We still had one more Big Fat Greek Holiday up our sleeves. ;)

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Les souvenirs

merewoman:

Hm. Quite bizarre, but kudos to the manufacturer and the travelling salesman who persuaded the restaurant that this was a good idea. Personally I’d settle for a toothpick. Or a packet of ‘mood toothpicks’. :D

Originally posted on FranceSays:

Mini Toothbrush DispenserWhen you think of souvenirs, you probably think of kitschy items like snow globes, seashell picture frames or Eiffel Tower key chains. I remember how important such mementos were to the kids when they were small. That coveted item, shark’s tooth or baseball cap, took pride of place on their dresser before being relegated to the memory boxes that still gather dust in our basement.

Now, our souvenirs tend to be digital. These bits of digital flotsam and jetsam that help us to remember where we were and when, what we did and chose to record. A photo shared on Facebook or emailed to family members, an update or a post about something we saw.

Thinking back on our holiday in Corsica two years ago, this unlikely image came to mind. On a scale of importance, how would you rate a mini-toothbrush dispenser in a restaurant bathroom? It seemed incongruous…

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An invitation to World Harmony Day

WORLD HARMONY DAY

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A group of people decided to create World Harmony Day, tomorrow, 12th August. To participate, at noon, wherever you are, take a moment to reflect on the good in the world. Complement a stranger’s hat. Buy coffee for the person behind you at the drive-through. Make a sandwich for a homeless person. Just do one small, kind, positive act. Lets spread this around, the world needs it….

See you there, I hope. :)

My Big Fat Greek Holiday (2)

Our next holiday destination was Kos, at that time an unspoilt island virtually untouched by the 20th century apart from the installation of electricity and an airport.

We rented a primitive villa known as Drossos’ Hovel, right on the beach and not far from Kos town. There were a couple of bedrooms, a veranda, a wash basin and a toilet. The floor was smooth concrete. The furniture consisted of beds, and plastic chairs and table on the veranda. The Hovel was whitewashed inside and out, and exquisitely cool after a hot day on the beach. As an escape from the horrors of commuting into and out of and working in Central London, it was perfect. Except for the toilet. Not that there was anything wrong with the toilet itself, it did flush, but you couldn’t put paper down it. Soiled paper was put in a small plastic bucket which was emptied daily by the maid. The children were horrified.

Stepping off our veranda (which was a few square yards of concrete), we were on the beach and 10 yards from the Aegean sea. There were no other buildings in sight, except for a shack a short way up the beach that sold cold drinks and served mouthwatering food so cheaply that we were embarrassed when the bill came. The owner was a Chris de Burgh fan who played his tapes constantly, recruiting a new fan in yours truly.

Image from Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

I can’t recall any other holiday that was so perfectly relaxing and which we as a family enjoyed quite so much.

Our maid was a very small, tanned and handsome retired policeman named Ianni, who spoke excellent English. After he had swept out the hovel and emptied the horrid plastic bin, he was happy to sit and talk over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, and we quickly became good friends.

When it was time to leave, we told him we would be returning the following year and would book the hovel again.

“No,” he said. “Don’t do that. You don’t need to spend all that money. Come and stay at my house in Kos town. There is plenty of room, and you would be so welcome. Please come and stay with me. We are friends. You just buy your air tickets, and you pay for breakfast. Save a lot of money.”

It seemed impolite to refuse, so we did as he said. Next year we flew back. Ianni met us at the airport and drove us to his very large modern single storey house, and introduced us to his much younger voluptuous wife, Xanthipe, who was gracious and charming. She looked like a red-haired version of Lollobrigida, with a matching cleavage. Ianni told us they had married when she was 14. He had taken one look at her and knew at that instant that no other woman would do.

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Image from Wikimedia

She showed us to our spacious, clean room. Then our holiday from hell began.

The heat was stifling. The mosquitoes were ravenous. The bedroom door did not open and close, but slid. If we left the window open, the mosquitoes kept us awake all night, and the door rattled in the breeze. If we closed the window we couldn’t breathe. Behind the house was a field wherein lived a cow and calf. The second day we were there the calf was taken away. The cow mooed and cried non-stop, day and night. Three houses away was a bouzouki bar. It opened at midnight, and bouzoukied until daylight. Sleep was impossible.

Image from Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

Another room in the house was rented out to a pleasant Greek lady doctor and her daughter, a girl of about 12 who was learning English. She practised on us. The sliding doors could not be locked, and she erupted through them unannounced at any time she wished, shouting: “Today I am go beach.” “Today I am go eat.” “Today I am go school.” “Today I am go hot.” And so on.

By the third morning we were ticking off the days until we could go home.

Breakfast was wonderful. Fresh baked fragrant Greek bread with honey, thick yoghurt, succulent watermelon, thick sweet Greek coffee and sticky pastries. It was the highlight of our day, before we set off, red-eyed and yawning to try to find a peaceful park or beach where we could sleep for a few hours.

We debated checking into a hotel, but how could we offend Ianni, who did everything to make our stay enjoyable, unaware that all we wanted was to be able to sleep at night? :)

He took us to see his vegetable garden. When we got there all his watermelons had been eaten by a belligerent sheep that was tied to a long rope. Why did he keep a sheep there if it ate his vegetables and fruit?

Well, he had wanted to find water for the garden, and had hired a water diviner. It was the custom,when looking for water, to buy a sheep and sacrifice it if water was found. Friends and family would be invited to a grand celebration barbecue. But when water was found, Ianni didn’t have the heart to hurt his sheep, so it now lived as a guest. He had bought a heap of meat to barbecue instead.

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The greedy sheep – image from Wikimedia

He took us to meet his friends, and to places where Greek men danced noisily in circles, and every morning he asked: “You are having a great time, yes?” And we would nod politely but untruthfully.

Finally the longed for day dawned when we were to fly home. We asked Ianni how much we owed. He called Xanthipe – that was her department. She gave us a piece of paper. I thought she had put too many zeros on the total, and crossed one off, and showed it to her. She shook her head and wrote the figure again.

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When we said that it was far more than we had anticipated, our hostess began talking rapidly to Ianni, who explained that as special friends, the breakfast had been a gift – we hadn’t been charged for that, only for the rooms. The amount was astronomical, and would have bought us an all-inclusive holiday in a five star hotel, air fares included. We didn’t have that much money with us, and neither at that time did we have credit cards, only travellers’ cheques that we had put aside, optimistically, to pay the bill, but which were totally inadequate. We gave her what we had, and said we’d send the rest once we were home. Xanthipe scowled angrily and walked away in disgust.

Of course we did send the balance, as well as a gift of crystal wine glasses.

Would we go back to Greece for a holiday? Absolutely. But sadly not to Kos. How would we be able to explain to Ianni that we couldn’t afford his hospitality? :)

And it is only now, 40 years later, that I recall the warning about Greeks bearing gifts, and wonder if Ianni befriended all the families to whom he served as maid?

Liberty

Originally posted on The Venomous Bead:

The Greek people have voted not to accept the continuation of the economic slavery that their previous governments, willing and well paid tools of the international banks, had imposed upon them.

In the western world we look to classical Greece as the source of our democracy….as an example of resistance to tyranny…. however little the theory reflects the reality.

We remember Byron dying in the wars of independence from the Ottoman Turks in the 1820s…

We might even remember, if of a certain age, the betrayal of the Greek resistance by the western powers after World War II…

The rule of the Colonels….

In the era of the European union we remember too how the then rulers of Greece took advice from the international banking firm Goldman Sachs on how to fiddle the figures in order to be accepted into an organisation only too pleased to turn a blind…

View original 175 more words

Why Africa?

The Italians have a name for it: “il mal d’Africa” – the African sickness. Once in your bloodstream, there it will stay, recurring unexpectedly, relentlessly, throughout your life. This condition manifests itself as an overwhelming longing to be in Africa. There is no cure, no inoculation, no vaccination. Prevention is the only answer. Do not go to Africa unless you are prepared to contract this condition.

Too late for me; I’ve had it for more than 40 years. However, a remedy is in sight, because in a few weeks we’ll be setting off to go back for a visit to the beautiful country of Kenya.

Friends and family have asked why.

Jeff Sink, a man who wears many hats and is a talented wildlife photographer, who has made 20 visits to Africa, has the answers, which he has very graciously allowed me to share.

This is what he says when asked: “Why do you need to go to Africa each summer”?

1. The night skies and the sounds of Africa, lions roaring in the distance, bush babies crying, elephants grazing right out the back of your luxury tent and the ethereal calls of the hyenas are all hypnotic.

2. The people of East Africa, who have nothing but are willing to share anyway. What they mostly share is their joy for life and their eternal hopefulness.

3. Watching mother elephants protect and adore their babies. It is mesmerizing.

4. Witnessing a cheetah hunt: Your adrenaline spikes when you watch a cheetah accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than four seconds. Unbelievable.

© Jeff Sink

Jeff with a cheetah friend. © Jeff Sink

5. There is virtually no cell phone coverage so human interactions once again become important. Walk around tomorrow and at any minute look at the people staring at their phones in comparison to people actually communicating. In Africa we learn to care about each other and listen once more.

6. The joyful fearfulness – meaning that Africa is edgy and so you are alive and every day is an adventure. Think about that for a moment – from the time you get up in the morning until your head hits the pillow that night – it is constant adventure. Around every bend is a new natural miracle.

Africa changes you forever. They used to say that “only mad dogs and Englishmen” really love Africa – well I have taken over 250 people to Africa and every one of them loved their trip. And most would return if they could.”

I could add to that the vivid colour of the birds, plants and trees; the smell of hot earth; the limitless horizons; the majesty of Mount Kenya; the superb cuisine; the humming of the whistling thorn trees; blinding sunsets and sunrises; the pleasure of sitting in the cool of the evening with a cold drink while listening to the sounds of the night.

Jeff is already planning his next trip, which, like ours, will be arranged by AsYouLikeItSafaris with 26 years of experience organising specialist safaris in East Africa.

I wish you were all coming with us. :D

Our big fat Greek holiday (1)

Long ago, when we took holidays, Greece was always our first choice. We love the food, the people, the climate, the scenery, the all-pervading smell of herbs, everything about the islands.

On Samos we used to rely on the local bus to take us to Tsamadou (rhymes with Xanadu, where did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure-dome decree) the most peaceful of all the beaches, never crowded, no balls being kicked around, no vendors, no sunbeds, no radios. Just the sun, the clearest blue waters, and a crowd of people wearing no clothes, because this was the unofficial nudist beach.

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Tsamadou beach

I don’t know if it’s still the case, but at that time it was illegal to sunbathe nude. Occasionally a helicopter could be heard clacking in the distance, and by the time it overflew the beach everybody was decently covered with a towel. The likelihood of the police actually catching anybody was minimal, because accessing the beach involved a long and tortuous climb/slither down a steep, dusty path peppered with scratchy undergrowth and small stones that bounced around noisily so everybody knew when a new arrival was imminent.

You had to take a crash course on getting to Tsamadou if you relied on public transport as we did.  The bus station lurked in a sweltering square behind the church. Acquiring a ticket was the first challenge. The buses all looked the same, elderly, dignified and festooned around the windscreen with icons, small coloured furry bobbles that swung and danced to the movement of the bus, and notices in Greek that we didn’t understand. We always took the bus that left at 10.00 am. You stepped onto the bus and told the driver where you wanted to go. One of three things happened:

1. He sold you a ticket and led you to a seat.

Or

2. He said the bus didn’t go to your destination.

Or

3. He told you that you needed to buy a ticket from the ticket office behind the bakery.

If (1) then you could sink into the hot seat with a sigh of relief.

If (2) then you had to go away and return a few minutes later giving him a different destination, whereupon he would either (1) or (3) you.

If (3) then you went to the ticket office and didn’t tell them your actual destination, in case they said the bus didn’t to there. Instead you gave them a different destination.

But if you went first to the ticket office the chances were they’d say you needed to buy your ticket direct from the bus. There was never any rhyme or reason for that particular riddle.

However, there was a valid reason for (2), because if you said Tsamadou they immediately knew you intended to spend a day nakedly on the beach, which was largely disapproved of. You could try saying you wanted to go to Kokkari, the nearest village within walking distance to Tsamadou, and might be lucky enough to fool them, or you could say you were going to Pythagorio and pay to go there, but then descend at Kokkari. It was a bit of a poker game.

So was the return journey. If you stood on the rock-strewn glaring white dusty road in the late afternoon after hiking back up the mountain from Tsamadou, the bus might stop, or it might not, meaning you had either to try your luck with a later bus, or hike into Kokkari.

1985AmorgosBus

The buses were somewhat like this.

It took about 4 days to crack the system and make it work for us, and work it did until the penultimate day of our stay, when it came crashing down.

Armed with our usual victuals of exquisite Greek bread, cheese, peaches and a bottle of wine, we trotted down to the bus station, only to find that it was no longer a bus station but a quiet car park.

There was no indication of why, nor where the buses had gone.

We wandered around for a few minutes, asking where the bus station was in my extremely limited Greek.

“Behind the church,” said the people I asked. “Behind the church,” said the Tourist Office. “Behind the church,” said the policeman.

As we marched about in growing frustration, we saw a bus wending its way out of Samos from a small side road tucked away in the back streets from where an almighty uproar of shouts and bangs and whistles emanated.

There we met a large crowd of extremely angry Greek people, numerous chickens in baskets and several goats on strings, surrounding a sweating man waggling his arms in the air and wearing a frightened expression. People were banging and kicking the buses parked nose to tail in the alley.

We found somebody who spoke English and asked what was happening. It transpired that the bus station had been evicted the previous night from the church square for non-payment of rent, so it had temporarily installed itself in this little lane, blocking it entirely to traffic and leaving no information as to where it could be found. People were understandably upset.

However, with commendable good humour from the drivers and goodwill from the passengers, and the cooperation of the livestock, we were soon on our way. The driver sold us the tickets, he obligingly stopped at Tsamadou, and we enjoyed our last day.

Would we ever go back to Greece? You bet. Lazy, peaceful, happy days spiced up with just a tiny drama :D